8 facts about chameleons you won’t believe are true!
The chameleon is most well-known for its ability to change colour depending on its environment. But that’s not all that you’ll find interesting about this loveable lizard. Read on for eight more simply amazing facts about chameleons that you can wow your friends with!
1. Madagascar is home to almost half the world’s chameleon species
The island of Madagascar, off the coast of East Africa in the Indian Ocean, is renowned for the thousands of different species of animal that can only be found there due to its geographical isolation. This is also the case with the chameleon. Worldwide, there are thought to be around 160 species of chameleon – but we know that 59 of these species can only be found on Madagascar!
2. Chameleons are mentioned in the works of Shakespeare
Shakespeare mentioned numerous animals in his plays, from apes to asses and moles to mice. However, some of his more interesting animal references concern the chameleon, a mysterious creature during the Bard’s life. In the 16th and 17th centuries, it was believed that the chameleon ‘fed on air’ and that it changed colour depending on the bodies and/or emotions of those close to it – hence the line in Two Gentlemen of Verona, ‘Give him leave, madam; he is a kind of chameleon’ to describe Thurio’s changing behaviour. Chameleons are also mentioned in Hamlet and Richard III.
3. Chameleons’ eyes are unique in the animal world
Chameleons’ eyes are unlike any other animals’. Rather than having an upper and/or lower eyelid, their eyes are shaped like a cone, with a small opening exposing the pupil. Each eye has a full range of motion – it can move up, down, front and back and side to side – but, most amazingly of all, each eye can move independently. So, not only do chameleons have 360º vision, they can also see in two directions at once – so don’t try and sneak up on one!
4. Chameleons have really long and powerful tongues!
The average chameleon’s tongue measures between 1.5 to two times the length of its body, excluding the tail. This huge length, coupled with a ballistic tongue which can reach prey within 0.07 seconds and at a force of 41G, means the chameleon’s chosen food – insects such as locusts, mantids, grasshoppers, stick insects, and crickets – has absolutely no chance of escaping!
5. Chameleons can’t hear very well
Considering it has superb eyesight, an insect-crunching tongue and an unmatched ability to camouflage itself, you must be thinking that the chameleon is bound to have some weakness? You’d be right: these lizards don’t have brilliant hearing. As with snakes, they don’t have an outer or a middle ear, meaning they don’t have an ear opening, or an eardrum, either. Chameleons can hear sound frequencies between 200 and 600Hz – considering humans can hear a range between 20 and 20,000Hz, that’s not a huge amount!
6. The world’s smallest chameleon can sit on the head of a match…
While you might assume chameleons to be standard-sized lizards, some species are super tiny! Take the leaf chameleon, found only in Madagascar, for example. This tiny critter measures just 0.5 inches long, and so can comfortably sit on the head of a match. It’s also one of the smallest vertebrates ever discovered!
7. While the largest species of chameleon is over two feet long…
Parson’s chameleon, also found in (surprise, surprise!) Madagascar, is thought to be the world’s largest species of chameleon, measuring up to 27 inches from head to tail – the length of the average domestic cat! It’s actually slightly shorter in length than the Malagasy Giant Chameleon, but its heavier body weight makes it the largest. Unless you take a trip to the island, it’s unlikely that you’ll ever see a Parson’s chameleon in the flesh – it’s illegal to export them from their native country.
8. And finally… the word chameleon means…
‘Lion on the ground!’ The term we used to describe the colour-changing lizard comes from two Greek words. The first, ‘khamai’, means ‘on the ground’ or ‘dwarf’, while the second, ‘leon’, means ‘lion’. While they don’t roar like their feline namesake, they’re certainly very interesting, as we’ve seen!